Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Piotr Zając is CEO at Untitled Kingdom - software and product development company focusing on IoT, digital health, FemTech and digital transformation projects that could really make a difference and improve people’s comfort in life. As a CEO at Untitled Kingdom, he takes care of maintaining cultural values and laying out the development direction for the company and is also responsible for business relationships with their partners. He regularly participates at events like SXSW, TechCrunch, CES, Smart IoT, and has been featured in tech and business publications such as Forbes, TechCrunch, Hackernoon and many others.
Piotr, what is the idea behind Untitled Kingdom and how did you come up with it?
Untitled Kingdom was founded 11 years ago, from a single project, which was to create the first eBookshop in Poland. It was a platform similar to iBooks owned by Apple. In the beginning, only a few people took part in the project but considering the next products the team was able to enlarge with new specialists. Untitled Kingdom has evolved over the years thanks to new people who have joined and more and more demanding projects.
The idea for the company was clarified a few years ago, when I noticed that we are most satisfied with projects that really change something in the world, make life easier for users (especially women, hence our focus on FemTech) and increase their comfort on a daily basis. I am proud that at the moment we develop mostly such projects and we do not have to duplicate simply meaningless apps.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
We were established in 2008, and at that time we were one of the first companies in Poland that started to develop applications for iOS. As I mentioned before, our first project was an eBookshop. At the turn of 2011 and 2012, there was a crisis in the reading market in Poland, the ebook platform was no longer being developed, and because it was our most significant client, I had to look for other sources of income.
Building a company is usually never just a success story. Failure or difficult situations, which require massive mobilization, teach us the most. I think that it was these turning points that defined who we are today. I recall the most important three such moments that determined what projects and with whom we work at Untitled Kingdom today.
The first moment was my trip to London in 2012 for 11 months, when I saw a different relationship building than in Poland and how it looks like to create projects with more experienced and conscious clients in a mature startup market. That's when we started to focus more on building a network in the United Kingdom. Besides, during these few years, the difference has disappeared and the startup market in Poland has definitely evolved.
The next moment is the turn of 2013 and 2014 when we almost went out of business because two of our customers from the United Kingdom went bankrupt. We were in a difficult situation, but at the same time, it was a moment when we changed our business model, a methodology of project management and communication. We introduced ‘Management 3.0’ and started our long-term partnership with Elvie, Mystery Vibe and other startups in the UK.
By the way, we don't like to use the word "client" because we focus on robust cooperation of our teams, that's why we prefer the term 'partner'. Daily we work in different locations, but we are one team and the success of the whole product is our success too. We play to the same goal, so we could be as committed to the project as our partner’s team is.
The third breakthrough moment was in mid-2014 when two other companies offered us a takeover offer. The whole team decided to remain independent, and we now have the comfort of working on the projects we want to develop, especially digital health and FemTech.
When we started working with Elvie and later with Mystery Vibe, we understood as an organization that meaningful projects that have an impact on users and their reality give us the most satisfaction. These are the most challenging products that provide us the most joy when they succeed in the market. It is worth mentioning the vast success of Elvie Pump in the USA when the first batch of devices was sold several minutes after the launch.
At the moment, with many years of experience in developing digital health and FemTech projects in a mature market in Europe (especially in Great Britain), we have been operating in the USA for 1.5 years, where we want to promote FemTech and help in the development of products that are targeted at women.
What was the biggest obstacle?
The biggest obstacles to development are us, entrepreneurs, and our approach to what we do and how we do it. When we are highly motivated and committed to the projects in which we are involved, this work per se is much more qualitative. Knowledge is easy to acquire as well as skills, so one of the most critical factors is the attitude.
I believe that the role of leaders in organizations is significant because they are the driving force for the rest of the team. Their position is to employ talented and well-informed people and then educate, stimulate and energize them daily. Leaders are responsible for people's satisfaction from working in their teams and, consequently, their efficiency, which ultimately converts into successful products.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
The most significant achievement at Untitled Kingdom is a unique team of talented and committed people. Over the past 11 years, we have created a healthy organizational culture and found values that are shared by all of us, making it easier for us to make decisions in crises and solve problems.
Our bond, shared vision, and values were particularly important at a time when we stood on the edge. At the same time, we started to partner with Elvie, with whom we built Elvie Trainer and Elvie Pump. It wouldn't have been possible if it hadn't been for a harmonious and challenging team at every stage of their work.
I am proud of the fact that it is the quality work of the team that influences our assessment and image in the industry, and this allows us to develop further. To this day, the vast majority of our partners are the result of the recommendation.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in?
The biggest challenge is to reach out to the right people for whom digital health and FemTech are close to, and whom we could help to create groundbreaking projects. That is why I am very happy to work with FemTech Collective or now with Women of Wearables because we can help each other or share knowledge and experience specifically in this industry.
We are looking for projects that are unique to us, which we haven't done yet, which from a product or technological point of view will push us out of our comfort zone. The key is to reach our target with such a message.
In this context, I would like to remind you of a quote that has accompanied me since my studies, and I am glad that we can also identify with it as an organization. This is a statement by US President John F. Kennedy from 1962 in Houston, Texas, where he spoke:
We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon… We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.
Are you supporters of #WomenInTech movement?
Supporting the #WomenInTech movement is essential. I must admit that it is much more difficult for me as an employer to find women with technical education and experience in the software market than a man. Unfortunately, there is a lack of balance on the market, especially when it comes to programming.
I think that the role of employers is to promote the world of technology also as a world that is good for development for women and to build a friendly, open environment. We do it every day in the Untitled Kingdom, and the result is an increasing percentage of women in our organization.
I believe that women's influence on the culture of an organization is enormous, brings diversity and allows for its balanced development. I am delighted that there are more and more women in technological roles in the market. I am also optimistic about the growing number of founders, CEOs, and directors not only in FemTech or digital health startups.
I also think that working on projects such as a kegel trainer, smart breast pump, as well as smart vibrators is changing the openness to such important FemTech and SexTech discussions both in women and even more so in men throughout our organization.
What are projects you and your team are currently working on?
I am incredibly proud of the portfolio of projects that we carry out. Apart from the fact that we continue to develop Elvie Trainer and Elvie Pump based on user feedback, we also continue our cooperation with MysteryVibe.
I am thrilled with our three new products. One of them is the system based on AI to improve the comfort of work in offices. The second is the earthquake monitoring system, which affects the safety of people in skyscrapers. The third is a bio-hacking product, which will be launched at the end of this year.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all founders and entrepreneurs in fem tech and health tech out there, especially from product development point of view?
Digital health and FemTech have been developing intensively since recently. The products we work with are revolutionary and often niche. They have no other equivalent on the market, so they have to go through the verification process. It is difficult to predict their success from the very beginning.
Therefore, in my opinion, what is most important for founders working on new FemTech and digital health solutions is not to give up, not to lose faith in their product, in which they believe that something will change in the world.
It is important not to bend before investors who may want to unify the solution. Founders need to listen to their intuition and well-prepared product because this is the most important when working on something innovative. They need to be rebels! What I mean is well illustrated by a quote from Henry Ford, which I like:
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
The ebook we have prepared after several years of developing our kickoff workshops, which you can download for free, can help you to validate your product and plan its development.
What will be the key trends in the fem tech and health tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
I observe very strongly how digital health and FemTech are developing, and from this point of view, the last SXSW conference in Austin was inspiring. The four main trends that I expect to happen are biometrics, precision medicine, data and privacy, and biohacking.
Further development of wearables will be particularly crucial in biometrics. This can be seen, for example, from the emphasis placed on such products by corporations. I am thinking, for example, of Apple's latest report on digital health. Recently we have heard of several cases of saving lives by Apple Watch, which made it possible for medical services to react quickly.
In the next few years, I expect even stronger dynamics of biometrics. Wearable devices will keep you informed about the condition of your body, chemical composition, microelements, health, and well-being. Thanks to the combination of machine learning and artificial intelligence, they will recommend, on the basis of the history of behavior, specific actions that the user will have to take preventively in order to maintain health, e.g. go for a walk, eat a particular product in case of shortage, stretch or just go to bed.
Real-time data based on what is happening in the body will allow you to control and avoid diseases or earlier medical reactions before a heart attack, for example. I look forward to this moment with great curiosity.
2. Precision medicine
Precision medicine is a trend strongly connected with biometrics, sometimes even existing inseparably. Biometrics will provide real-time data about our health, and in combination with precision medicine, it will be possible, for example, that in the morning we will be able to get the right drugs or supplements for us and our needs in case of diseases or shortages.
This will reduce medical interviews, which are once deeper and once less precise. The doctor will receive a set of data that will help him very accurately help the patient in a much shorter time than today. Ultimately, this can reduce the amount of unnecessary and inadequate medication taken by society.
3. Data and privacy
Another trend that I foresee is the consolidation and standardization of medical data while maintaining the security of this sensitive information.
At the moment, the fragmentation of our health data is the biggest challenge. They are scattered in many clinics, in many doctors, with whom we have to conduct the same interviews every time. It is comforting to note that in other markets we have succeeded in consolidating data, as in the case of centralization of banking data systems or the register of offences.
As humankind, we stand at a crossroads when we have to ask ourselves fundamental questions (and find answers to them):
- who should have access to our data,
- how and where to use the data,
- which solution will be the most effective and appropriate; full access and full centralization, or is each country/organization to have its own policy?
I believe that in the coming years this data will be centralized and standardized, and we, as owners, will be able to decide who can use it and to what extent. The more information we collect and make available for the analysis system in machine learning, the better they can serve us as humanity.
Bio-hacking is growing more and more strongly but is also controversial. For example, the devices that are created affect the stimulation of the brain, e.g., to boost its efficiency, concentration. This is the moment when we have to ask ourselves philosophical or ethical questions.
What happens when some people may have greater access to bio-hacking resources? Should this be the case? What if this will have an impact on better chances in the labor market and better wages? Should we support such solutions as humanity or not?
Who are your 3 inspirational people and businesses in fem tech and health tech?
Many people inspire our organization and me, but if I have to give three, it will be:
1. National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom
Unexpectedly, my first type is not human or business, but a public institution, the NHS in the United Kingdom. We are talking to many companies around the world, and the NHS is a tremendous player, a pioneer in healthy digitization. I am inspired by their desire for change, to see trends and to respond to them.
Our experience shows that this is the most advanced national public health service in the world because they not only manage but predict what will happen in the future.
The NHS accelerator, which releases the best in young talents from startups, is admirable. They have contacts, specialists, the ability to organize focus groups, testing and thus stimulate innovation.
Additionally, the NHS is advanced in terms of data standardization, access to them, the exchange between institutions. For us, as we specialize in digital health, it should also be an inspiration for other countries.
2. Tania Boler from Elvie
We have been working with Tania Boler, founder and CEO of Elvie for several years now. This is the embodiment for me of everything that I mentioned earlier in the advice for entrepreneurs. Tania is the best example of following your intuition, goal, creating non-obvious products that do not have equivalents on the market. I admire her for her effectiveness in solving women's real and frequent problems and making it easier for them to function daily. Elvie’s success is due to the combination of her passion, her willingness to change the world and help people, but also the emphasis on education and awareness-raising.
3. FemTech movement and its founders
Another unexpected inspiration for me is the entire FemTech movement and its founders. As an entrepreneur and a person working in the field of new technologies, I know how important it is to be brave and to carry out projects that are often doomed to failure by the people around. FemTech founders are brave women who often create products to solve a problem or need that they themselves have.
I admire CEO women who fight taboos and the marginalization of women's problems, often with large institutions such as the Ośe case (sex toy), which first received an award at the CES, and then was banned or a problem with advertising on Facebook Pulse products (natural lubricants). This attitude and courage, which are, after all, the basis of entrepreneurship, often give me strength when developing a difficult project.
LinkedIn: Piotr Zając
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.